Arkansas River

Photo: JerryRice

Upper Arkansas River, Colorado

Colorado's Upper Arkansas River Valley is mostly ranch and farm land, largely undeveloped, and bookended on the west by the magnificent Sawatch Range with 15 summits rising to 14,000 feet or higher, and the Mosquito Range to the east, which boast several 13,000-foot peaks of its own. Slicing through this high mountain basin is the Arkansas River, the most popular whitewater paddling destination in the United States.

Popular, that is, until the Ark's roaring water levels begin to drop as summer slips into autumn and then the dead of winter. However, ridiculously low water and colder temps don't mean boaters need to hibernate. Providing the river remains liquid (vs. frozen hard), which is usually the case in this mountainous banana belt, a small but growing cadre of hard-core paddlers remains eager and willing to hit the boney, tight-lined, challenging, and always wildly fun ELF (Extremely Low Flow) runs on the Ark.

The lengthy Upper Ark provides plenty of it, from Class II to Class III-plus. With elevations ranging from 8,580 above the mountain town of Buena Vista to 5,335 feet near Cañon City, you might find it sleeting while running the technical rapids of the Numbers section, while sunny and warm downstream in scenic, pool-drop Brown's Canyon. — LR

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